03/17/05 — ECU hires Stokes as hoops coach

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ECU hires Stokes as hoops coach

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on March 17, 2005 2:29 PM

GREENVILLE -- Diminutive by Division I point-guard standards, former Virginia standout Ricky Stokes climbed every conceivable mountain and etched his name in the Atlantic Coast Conference record books.

Now, the 5-foot-10 Stokes has another pinnacle to reach -- establishing the East Carolina men's basketball program, which has battled to escape the Conference USA basement. ECU athletics director Terry Holland is certain Stokes can rejuvenate the program, which last made an NCAA tournament appearance in 1993.

A disciple of Holland, Stokes was officially named the Pirates' new head coach Wednesday afternoon at the Murphy Center. Stokes becomes the 21st head coach all-time in school history and immediately succeeds Bill Herrion, who failed to produce a winning season in six tries.

Holland compared Stokes' appointment to East Carolina's struggle to become a consistent winner in men's basketball.

"(Ricky) reminds me a lot of East Carolina because he's always having to prove himself," Holland said. "(He) has spent his whole life proving that it does not matter what your size may be or what other people think, as long as you believe in yourself and do things the right way."

Stokes humbly smiled as Holland lauded his former point guard, who guided the Cavaliers to three consecutive ACC titles.

Holland's second recruitment of Stokes started Tuesday on the eve of South Carolina's opening-round NIT contest against Miami, Fla. The two discussed the coaching vacancy and Stokes' eagerness to re-enter the head coaching ranks pleased Holland.

After an early-morning counsel with Gamecocks head coach Dave Odom, a former ECU coach in the 1970s, Stokes answered Holland's inquiry with a strong affirmation.

"I'm excited about the opportunity to coach basketball once again," said Stokes, who was greeted with a standing ovation from the athletics staff and Pirate Club members in attendance. "Over the past few years, I've learned a lot by watching and getting to know the best coaches in basketball.

"Ever since I started playing basketball, I've had to find a way to compete and win, and that's the type of mentality I will bring to this program."

Stokes got a first-hand look at the Pirates earlier this season in a tournament in Alabama and walked away impressed with what he saw. he hasn't had a chance to meet with the team since school is out for Spring Break.

Former Kinston standouts Corey Rouse and Jeremy Ingram, who transferred from Wake Forest, did attend the press conference.

"After meeting with them for a few minutes, I'm really excited about the future of this team in the short-term and long-term," a grinning Stokes said. "I think any time you take over a program, you need leadership. I've got to believe those two guys are going to be leaders on next year's team. I want us to be successful and I know everyone in this room wants us to be successful."

Stokes admits his calling card is his determination and drive to succeed -- surpass his critics' expectations and reap the benefits. But his real strength, which Holland noted, is his ability to recruit.

As an assistant coach at Wake Forest, Texas and South Carolina, Stokes assembled some of the nation's top talent. Although most of the players didn't comprise the top 50 list, Stokes always found a gem and helped polish it to perfection.

Stokes also possesses the ability to identify and relentlessly pursue quality student-athletes. His expertise in tutoring and developing stellar guard play was evident in the success of former Demon Deacon and All-American Randolph Childress.

"To be successful in recruiting, you have to have a great academic reputation and we have that here at East Carolina," said Stokes, who guided Virginia Tech to 45 victories before getting released two years ago. "The only way I know how to do that is through hard work. We will not bring any student-athletes to East Carolina that we feel will not graduate.

"We have the academic support system in place and that's important. But I also think we need to bring in young men who want to do well and succeed. We will need to put together a coaching staff that will strive and push them to graduate in four years."

Stokes already has one coach in place.

Mack McCarthy, who enjoyed phenomenal success at Chattanooga, will serve as Stokes' associate head coach. McCarthy compiled 300-plus wins in 16 years as a head coach and left the Southern Conference as the all-time winningest coach in league history.

"Mack brings a wealth of coaching experience, NCAA experience and wealth of basketball knowledge to East Carolina," said Stokes. "He is a great recruiter and will fit in very well here."

Stokes is the second coach from the South Carolina athletics staff to join ECU. Holland appointed Skip Holtz the new football coach more than two months ago after firing John Thompson.

Herrion resigned last month, but coached the team through its regular-season finale against Tulane. The Pirates finished 9-19 and left Herrion with a six-year worksheet of 70-98.